Norwegian Sea

To live is to war with trolls

With my project in Estonia moving at a snail’s pace, towards the end of November I once again agreed with my team to go remote until the project was ready to go live. So where to go? Since I had all my cold weather clothes, I figured I’d keep it cold and go even farther north. I’ve seen the Northern Lights before, but there was something intriguing to me about going up to the Arctic Circle for a couple weeks before heading home for the holidays.

And so, I booked my flight to Tromsø, Norway. I arrived rather late at night and found the bus into the center of the city. From there, I trudged up a slushy, snow-covered hill in the rain for about 25 minutes, suitcase and all, before finally arriving at the AirBnb I had rented for the couple weeks I was there.

It was a basement apartment, but it might be the coziest place I ever stayed. Very warm, very modern Nordic design, and there’s something special about feeling very cozy when it’s so cold and dark outside all the time. Like somehow being back in the womb.

If I thought Tallinn was dark, or New York in the winter, then this was on a whole other level. The sun never technically rose. There was a dawn-like brightness around 10am, and then it transformed directly into a dusk-like aura that ended around 3pm.

And it was cold, but it wasn’t that cold. Around freezing I suppose. My day typically consisted of going down to the cafes near the harbor in the morning and buying a ridiculously expensive coffee and pastry while watching the day brighten a bit. The pastries were good though. I had a cinnamon roll thing that was stuffed with some kind of vanilla pudding I think? I don’t want to know the nutritional values on those things.

I’d go back to the apartment and work a bit and cook an actual meal. Some evenings I’d go to the brewery (it used to be the northernmost in the world, but I think there is a new one farther North), or a little bar cafe to have a drink or snack and get some more work done.

Here are a few pictures I took of the harbor area.

One of my greatest accomplishments was walking the 15 minutes down to the town area every day without falling.

In Tromsø, the Northern Lights tours are very popular, as are the Reindeer and Dog Sledding tours. I went for an evening walk and saw some Northern Lights, and while I saw some Reindeer I didn’t go on the actual tour. I did see the reindeer hot dogs they were selling, but couldn’t bring myself to try one.

There is also a famous “ice hotel” on the island, but it’s quite expensive and luxurious. Still, pretty cool experience if you’ve got a bunch of money to burn and want a truly unique experience.

Norway, in general, is very expensive. My morning coffee and pastry was probably $10. Tours were also very expensive. But I did decide to do one, which was a whale-watching tour. I figure maybe see some whales and get a nice boat ride out of it.

The views were really beautiful, and I got to see some Orcas and Humpback whales. I also saw lots of snow-covered mountains and glaciers, and it was amazing how cold and still everything was. You’ll probably need to enlarge these to actually see the whales – these photos never turn out as well as they are in real life.

I met a Brazilian girl on the whale watch so we got drinks that night, and then a couple days later we went to Tromsøbadet because she wanted to of course. It’s like an indoor waterpark and wellness center, with tons of different pools and saunas to relax in.

So I’ve been in a proper Norwegian sauna and hot tub and echo chamber room and I don’t know what else. There was a pool that went outside through sliding doors, and you could just relax out there in the warm water while it snowed on you. Froze your hair though. Anyways, that was something to do.

There’s also an Arctic Cathedral which is quite cool that you can check out if you visit. I walked by and had a look in, as well as looking over at the cable car. But I was satisfied to just look around rather than pay the $20 to actually participate in the activity. Oh the library is pretty too! I walked around in there a bit.

Ølhallen was my bar of choice, since it was (relatively) cheap, had plenty of space, and was the least pretentious of all the options. I could safely have my beer and drink in peace. I mastered the art of drinking one beer over the course of two hours and then going home to both maintain my ability to work and not spend a fortune.

Here’s a glass of beer from there, which also gives you an idea of where to find Tromsø on a map.

It was a pretty unambitious few weeks from a tourism perspective. But I think I could live pretty contentedly in a warm house in the middle of the cold. Unfortunately it’s Norway, so the houses cost at least a billion dollars.

Also, here are the best places to laze around:

Smørtorget – Nice little cafe. Lots of space, good breakfasts, wifi, weird interior, really nice people.

Kaffebønna – A bit more corporate, a bit less space, but nice coffee and pastries and a good place to work when it isn’t too busy.

Graffi Grill – Very good veggie burger, very reasonably priced.

FRØ – Vegan sandwiches and open-faced burger specials. I ate here a couple times, and when it was quiet I’d just sit at the counter and look across the street at the coolest hair salon I’ve ever seen.

Burger King – Yeah, I know I know, but hear me out. They do the Rebel Whoppers here, and you can actually have a meal for under 10 euros. I’m unashamed about the fact that I went here multiple times.

If you like the quiet, I could not recommend Tromsø more. It’s very still, very peaceful, people are nice, and it’s a great place to pass some time. Maybe fight a reindeer if you get bored. I put a lot of thought into how big a reindeer I could fight, and ended up deciding it would have to be a very small one.

I probably should have done a bit more touristy stuff while I was here, but I was a bit busy working. Maybe some skiing or doing a day tour with some sledding. It’s not like you get back up to the Arctic Circle very frequently. But after my relaxing stay, I was headed back home for Christmas via NYC.

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